Grist - May 2019
Lawns do provide some benefits: Green spaces help reduce the urban heat island effect, lowering the temperature of the entire metro area. Lawns can help restore groundwater and reduce urban flooding, and because they’re plants, they help pull a small amount of carbon dioxide out of the air. Plus, they are generally pleasing places to play.
But, on balance, lawns are awful for the planet. Our addiction to lawns means that grass is the single largest irrigated agricultural “crop” in America, more than corn, wheat, and fruit orchards combined. A NASA-led study in 2005 found that there were 63,000 square miles of turf grass in the United States, covering an area larger than Georgia. Keeping all that grass alive can consume about 50-75 percent of a residence’s water.
Lawnmowers suck up gas and pollute the air: Every year, U.S. homeowners spill some 17 million gallons of gas while filling up mowers. We use tens of millions of pounds of chemical fertilizer and pesticides on our lawns.
All this effort, of course, isn’t cheap. Americans spend more than $36 billion every year on lawn care, four-and-a-half times more than the annual budget of the Environmental Protection Agency.
American lawns have so, so much potential — and right now, it’s going to waste. It’s time to culturally stigmatize the classic over-watered, over-fertilized, over-mowed American lawn — a symbol of excess that’s persisted for far too long.
Minnesota is one of the few places in the country where traditional turf grass can grow without much help, but it’s still no match for native grasses if your goal is to reduce your planetary impact. All grasses pull carbon dioxide out of the air and bury it underground, but native grasses have much deeper roots — and can store carbon much more efficiently.
In places like Southern California, there is no reason for conventional lawns to exist — and amid an ongoing megadrought, cities are offering buyouts for homeowners to convert their grass lawns into native vegetation or shaded, xeriscaped rock. ...
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